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Posted on: July 24th, 2006

Sampras still enjoys game

- petepage

By Lori Shontz, St Louis Today

July 23, 2006

When Pete Sampras dominated tennis, winning a record 14 major titles, he practiced every day, of course. For hours.

These days, Sampras changes a lot of diapers and hangs out with his wife and two sons, ages 3 and 11 months. But he still loves to play tennis, even just hitting across the net, and he decided that if he could find a way to return to the game without returning to his former practice habits, he would do so.

Enter World TeamTennis. The season lasts three weeks. Each match lasts one set. Sampras knew he could practice a couple of times a week. Perfect.

Sampras said the combination of his practice schedule with the WTT format - one service break, when the first player to five games wins, can be a disaster - has made his game "kind of a crapshoot." But he said he is enjoying himself anyway.

"I can still serve well," Sampras said Sunday night, before the St. Louis Aces defeated his Newport Beach Breakers 23-15. "I can still volley pretty hard. I don't feel as confident. But the only way you gain confidence is by playing.

"I can still entertain people, show them some of the things I did in my prime. But I still have a lot of pride. I want to play well."

He struggled Sunday night, however. He and partner Rick Leach lost the men's doubles match 5-2 to the Aces' John Paul Fruttero and Brian Wilson. The Aces broke Sampras' serve in the sixth game when he double-faulted on game point. He spent the seconds between points in the next game practicing his serve motion, but it was too late to salvage the match.

In a post-match interview over the public address system, Sampras said, "I'm 34, but in tennis years I feel about 50."

Fruttero then put on an outstanding performance in men's singles, shutting out Sampras 5-0.

"I'm not sure I'm awake right now," Fruttero said afterward. "But I sure hope I am."

Fruttero, like Sampras, grew up in Southern California. Fruttero's older brother, who is 35, often played against Sampras. Fruttero, 25, tagged along to watch his brother play, and that's how he got started playing himself, at age 4 1/2.

"I've spent my whole life idolizing Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi," Fruttero said. "It's a privilege just to be on the court with him before his playing career is over."

The fans in the sold-out Dwight Davis Memorial Tennis Center in Forest Park felt the same way about the opportunity to watch Sampras in person. This was the only one of the Aces' matches that sold out in advance, and the tickets were $75, three times the usual price.

Sampras knew Fruttero would be tough; Fruttero won their earlier match in a tiebreaker. Sampras said he didn't return well - a common problem, he said, playing on the fast World TeamTennis surface.

"Everyone thinks I like fast courts," he said, laughing. "I really don't. I like a little slower court, so you have a little more time to try to return. And Fruttero, he has a fast, hard serve."

All that aside, Sampras said he still enjoys playing tennis. After a couple of years at home, he also enjoys being on the road again, even though he travels for only a week at a time, rather than several.

In the other matches, Newport Beach's Anastassia Rodionova beat Maria Emila Salerni 5-4, and Salerni and Parkway Central graduate Aleke Tsoubanos beat Rodionova and Tina Krizan 5-3. Newport Beach's mixed doubles team of Leach and Tina Krizan beat Wilson and Tsoubanos 5-3. Wilson and Tsoubanos won one overtime game.

Source: St Louis Today

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